When you first start couponing, it’s easy to get worked up about saving money with coupons. When I take a walk down memory lane, I realize how addicted I was in my earliest days of couponing, watching my balance plummet at the checkout register and thinking how I was saving up every day.
It’s incredibly satisfying and thrilling to witness your coupon printing and clipping efforts make a huge difference in your bank account by the end of the month. While it’s completely normal to be moved by the savings you are gleaning, are you ensuring that you are using your money and time efficiently?
Here are some of the mistakes I made in my early days of couponing that you should avoid if you want to become a couponing master.
1. Buying useless items just because they were a good deal
Every time I head out to purchase something I know I wouldn’t use, I ask myself the following questions: “Do I want to store this item?” and “Do I want to pay sales tax on this item?”
If I answer No to even one of these, the item goes back on the shelf. The only exception is when the item can prove to be lucrative. If the monetary benefit that I would gain by purchasing the product pays for the sales tax, I ask myself if I can donate or gift this item. If I find myself nodding in the affirmative, the product pays for itself and then I usually give it away.
2. Thinking I had to get my hands on every deal
I taught myself a phrase, rather a mantra, that I like to chant every time I fail to visit a store to grab a hot deal: “You win some, you lose some.”
When it comes to scoring great deals and coupons, you’ll win most of the time. However, accepting that you might lag behind at other times helps you keep a good balance in your life!
3. Failing to sufficiently stock up on items that I use a lot
I am quite dependent on cough drops and Kleenex in the winters. If I didn’t hoard these treasures at every chance I got, I would end up running out of them and purchasing them at a time when their prices are touching ridiculous heights.
Try to make a list of things you use a lot, or might use at a later time, and buy them beforehand when the right deal comes along. Saving for a rainy day always pays off in the long run.
4. Buying unhealthy items because they are moneymakers or free
I gained quite a few pounds in those first few years of recklessly dedicated couponing since all the unhealthy, expensive items that I would normally steer clear of were either moneymakers, free, or cheap. In my enthralling moment of realization that I could afford all the sodas, chips, candies, and cookies that I wanted, I went overboard without realizing how my dietary habits were worsening.
These days, every time I see an item that doesn’t seem healthy, I ask myself, “Is this worth my health?” If the answer is Yes, it ends up in my cart. However, it doesn’t mean that all deals can wreak havoc on your health. I still stock up on candies a month or two before Halloween when the deals are hot and save myself a fortune. To prevent the inevitable, I stash away the candies in my garage!
5. Having a disheveled coupon folder
It would surprise you to know the number of coupons that I have lost or couldn’t find when I needed them the most! After months of staying higgledy-piggledy, I found my own way of staying organized, which has saved me quite a bit of time and money.
Find a system that works for you, be it sorting out the coupons according to their genres, the stores they are applicable at, how soon you would need them, or putting the coupons that are for the same product together in your folder.
6. Not taking all your coupons to the store
Imagine you walk in to a store and find numerable items on clearance shelves that you remember having a coupon for at home. Had you brought your coupon book with you, you would have gotten those items at amazing deals — i.e. as moneymakers or for free.
As I learned over time, never part with your coupon book whenever you head out. You never know what life might throw your way!
7. Clipping the coupon before getting the item in my cart
Everybody’s couponing system is different. Experience has taught me that clipping the coupons before even setting foot inside the store depletes much of your precious time. This is because oftentimes the deal isn’t as enticing once you see the product in person, the item is at the wrong price, or even worse, the store has run out of it. Save your coupon until checkout time.
8. Buying items that are priced highly or not on my list
I always make for the clearance racks as soon as I enter a store. However, once you are there, randomly pulling items off the shelves that look flashy, useful, or tasty add to your out-of-pocket money.
Now, I’ve learned to stick to my list, and if I suddenly remember something that I needed but forgot to add to my list, I grab the best deal for it there. It saves money and gas to remember what you need at the store when you are there, rather than going home and making a special trip back for it.
9. Being oblivious to the coupon policies of the stores you are shopping at
If a coupon fails to scan, most store clerks will tell you that it’s bad. However, if you have read up on their coupon policy and have it on your phone, you can show it to them and make them call a manager or put your coupon through anyway. This will prevent your hard-earned coupons from being discarded without reason.
10. Using my coupons on larger-sized products
As a rule of thumb, coupons are usually good for products of a certain minimum size and up.
Most money is saved by using coupons on the smallest size of the product that is valid for that coupon. When I want to buy a myriad of items, I buy more newspapers, trade coupons, or print each coupon multiple times.
11. Not sending in your rebates
If you stumble across an item at a great price with a rebate and somehow forget to send it in, you are letting bucks slip out of your palms. This reminds me of an old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Until you have submitted the rebate, keep the item close at hand as a constant reminder. Financial laziness is potentially fatal (to your wallet)!
12. Not obeying coupon wordage
In the last decade, especially since the propagation of the show Extreme Couponing, a myriad of policies and restrictions have been imposed on coupons. Throngs of people want to mimic what they see on the show and aspire to do whatever it takes to save big. Some people have even resorted to putting their integrity and honesty on the line for a good deal. However, people like us know it isn’t worth it.
If a coupon is expired, it makes for my trashcan. If a coupon is valid for one per person, I make a habit of taking along a friend or someone else. If a coupon entails that some other item be purchased with it or excludes a certain size of the product, I comply with it.
The couponing industry has lost millions due to erroneous use of coupons, expired coupons, or fraudulent coupons. That said, oftentimes even seasoned couponers fail to read the fine print before sending in a coupon for scanning. It helps to read and re-read the fine print each time to preserve your integrity — “The big print giveth, the small print taketh away.”
13. Purchasing a branded product even if the generic is cheaper
Here is a situation you must be familiar with:
There is a close-out deal when you get to the spaghetti sauce. The generic brand you see is 30 cents cheaper for the same size of Ragu that you wanted to buy using your coupon.
You may feel the urge to find the pertinent coupon, clip it, and wait as the cashier scans it. However, it is often prudent to restrain your inner coupon-voice of reason. Count your lucky stars that you found something even cheaper and toss it in your cart. Sometimes, you find generic or great last-chance deals that cost even less than the on sale brand name with coupons.
When you are pulling products off the shelves, conduct a quick comparison and pay close attention to weight, quantity, and size. While it’s OK to be loyal to brands, make sure it doesn’t cost you in the long run.
14. Being an inefficient couponer
When you start out with couponing, you might find yourself spending more time and money than needed. It takes time and effort to hone in on your couponing skills. It also costs time, gas, newspapers, and papers to coupon.
A few months into couponing, try to analyze how much money and time you are investing in couponing. Some extreme couponers live highly unbalanced lives, fretting over the next deals and couponing to the extremes. While couponing is highly addictive, just remember that if you aspire to be an efficient couponer, this practical skill can be continued while living a balanced lifestyle as well.
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